Washington Babylon — August 15, 2007, 11:32 am

EPIC: Biometric Identification in Iraq Could Become a Tool for Ethnic Cleansing

I recently spoke with Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center EPIC, who told me about a story that has not received enough attention. It involves the Pentagon’s use of a new system of biometric identification in Iraq that EPIC fears “could lead to further reprisals and killings.”

Last month, USA Today ran an article on a new system, to be deployed by the U.S. military, that profiles suspected insurgents in Iraq. According to this story, “U.S. troops are creating a database with hundreds of thousands of records of Iraqi adult males, which they can use to conduct quick background checks and identify potential troublemakers.” The paper also reported that American personnel are taking scans of individuals’ fingerprints and irises at homes, workplaces, and checkpoints. Suspected insurgents are added to a general database that is administered by the U.S. military. “The biggest problem we have in Iraq is separating insurgents from the population,” Owen West, who served two Iraq tours as a Marine major, told the newspaper. “Once you can identify someone, you can begin to crack the insurgent network as the police would crack a gang.”

Rotenberg found the USA Today story troubling given abuses of identity systems in past conflicts in South Africa and Rwanda–where official identification cards contained ethnic information that was used to identify people to be killed. He believes the Defense Department should develop guidelines for the military’s use of biometric systems, including privacy and accountability controls if it is turned over to the Iraqi government. “We recognize the strategic military importance of identifying threats to American military personnel,” EPIC, Privacy International, and Human Rights Watch wrote in a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on July 27. “However, these tactics also strip away a substantial privacy measure for Iraqi citizens in the midst of a conflict that flows from deep religious and ethnic division. Specifically, the biometric identification of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd populations vastly increases the possibility that this information may be misused at some future point.”

According to Rotenberg, the company that is “pretty much ground zero for the surveillance industry” is L-1 Identity Solutions. L-1′s board of directors includes some powerful former government officials: Louis Freeh, the former FBI Director, George Tenet, former CIA Director, and Admiral James Loy, former deputy undersecretary of the Transportation Security Administration. Biometric identification is clearly big business: the company issued a press release earlier this year saying it had won up to $71 million from the U.S. Army for handheld biometric recognition devices and another announcing a deal to provide the Pentagon with “Automated Biometric Identification System[s]” for “broad use in the accurate and fast identification of individuals.” In addition, the company’s website says that thousands of its “mobile iris and multi-modal devices” have been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cuba, Bosnia, and other “places of global conflict.”


There’s more on the story at EPIC’s website.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2016

Prose by Any Other Name

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The New Red Scare

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Separated at Birth

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Priest in the Trees

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Lightness

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

With Child

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
With Child·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Photograph (detail) by Lara Shipley
Article
Swat Team·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As we shall see, for the sort of people who write and edit the opinion pages of the Post, there was something deeply threatening about Sanders and his political views."
Illustration (detail) by John Ritter
Article
Escape from The Caliphate·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"When Matti invited me on a tour of the neighborhood, I asked about security. 'The message has already been passed to ISIS that you’re here,' he said. 'But don’t worry. I guarantee I could bring even you in and out of the Islamic State.'"
Photograph (detail) by Alice Martins
Article
In This One·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Illustration (detail) by Shonagh Rae
Article
“Don’t Touch My Medicare!”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Medicare’s popularity, however, comes with almost no understanding of what the program is and how it works."
Illustration (detail) by Nate Kitch

Damages sought, in a defamation suit, by a Chicago landlord from a tenant who complained about mold via Twitter:

$50,000

The British House of Lords voted to limit the right of parents to spank their children.

The Mall of America hired its first black Santa, a real estate company valued Mr. and Mrs. Claus’s North Pole home at $656,957, and it was reported that the price of the gifts from “Twelve Days of Christmas” went up by more than $200 in 2016, to $34,363.49.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today